History, Myth, or Story?

Kennedy Center

Engraving on the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

I love stories.  And this week I was reminded again of just how important stories are to us.

I live in an “active adult” community.  I used to laugh to my younger friends that I could only live here because my husband’s age qualified us.  But now I, too, am over 55, and refer to all of us with affection as “the old folks’ community.”  I love it here because it’s the friendliest place I’ve lived since I moved from the small town of my childhood.

We moved here because the community lay just outside the congestion of the DC suburbs—close enough to drive in for the wealth of activities a city provides but far enough out to see the stars at night and to go for a walk in the early morning without seeing another human being.

This week our social committee arranged for us to take a small bus into the city to the Kennedy Center to see The Book of Mormon, a highly irreverent musical by the creators of South Park, about our penchant for attempting to create God in our own image.

I squirmed a little at the language—especially when the profanity was directed toward a God who allows pestilence and disease.  But I haven’t laughed so hard in a very long time.  I never watched South Park, but I knew enough about it to know that I’d be seeing an outrageous satire about the way we humans approach our faith.

My favorite line appears near the end of the musical when the first convert has become disillusioned by the flaws in her bumbling hero’s faith.  One of her neighbors says to her—and I may not have the line verbatim here—You didn’t really believe that sh#*that a man f—d a frogdid you? It’s a METAPHOR!

After reading Reza Aslan’s Zealot the week before seeing this play, I belly-laughed at that line.  For anyone who’s avoided reading about the controversy surrounding Dr. Aslan, he outlines what scholars know about the history of Jesus the man and draws the conclusion that Jesus the Christ is a myth.

And while I found Dr. Aslan’s line of reasoning thought-provoking—and not in any way an insult to what I believe—I have to say that I was more drawn to the story of Parker, Lopez, and Stone, the creators of The Book of Mormon.  It doesn’t claim to be history, and it pokes fun at the myths we create.

In short, it is a story—a story that makes much the same point as Dr. Aslan—that we human beings tend to see God in the image we want to see.

On the bus ride back home, I reveled in listening to the reactions of my fellow active adults.  Some were quiet, and I wondered whether they had known just what they’d see on that stage of joyful characters.

The chatter I enjoyed most came from the couple sitting behind my husband and me.  On the ride to the theater, we had talked with them about their tennis game and their children, and I’d listened to their constant stream of conversation with each other.  Though they are in their 80s, both are still vibrant, and they truly enjoy talking with each other.  I had whispered into my husband’s ear earlier that I hoped we’d still have as much to talk with each other about when we were their age, and my husband had responded that he hoped he could still play tennis.

On the return trip they talked about the language in the play, and though I’ve never heard either of them curse, they didn’t seem at all offended by the license of the playwrights in regard to profanity.  And then my neighbor talked about the play in terms of his own life.  “I used to cuss a lot, even after the kids were born,” he said.  And then he launched into a story about when he finally learned to reign in his tendency to blurt out a stream of expletives.

I smiled.  That’s what I love about literature and story.  We can’t read or hear stories in a vacuum.  We bring our own lives and experiences to the world that story opens up to us.

And, ultimately, our lives write the story of the God we want to believe in.

So tell me your story.

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